A Story of Friendship: Redding Man Donates Kidney So His Ailing Friend Can Have a Better Life
Jim Gironda leads a full life: managing a successful Italian restaurant in Redding with his wife Penny, caring for his elderly father, and being an active father and grandfather. So when his kidneys started failing, Jim didn’t want to admit that his health was in jeopardy. “I thought I was a tough guy and wouldn’t need a kidney transplant, even though my creatinine level had spiked,” says Jim, age 58.
Crohn’s Disease Medications Lead to Kidney Damage
Jim presumes that his kidney damage occurred as a result of medications taken for Crohn’s disease and short bowel syndrome—conditions he has had for nearly 30 years. “Since 1983, I had been taking over 12,000 pills a year for my health conditions,” recalls Jim. The kidney damage led him to dialysis in 2008 and in search of a kidney transplant.
“I was evaluated for a kidney transplant at California Pacific in 2008 and all of my family was tested to be my living donor,” says Jim. Additionally his friend of 20 years, John Williams, age 65, came forward as a living donor candidate. John, the semi-retired owner of Sunrise Excavating in Redding, recalls, “I heard that Jim was in need of a kidney and gave some thought about donating one of mine to him. I didn’t know an awful lot about being a donor, but was familiar with transplantation.”
Exploring Kidney Paired Donation
Unfortunately, Jim’s family and John were not compatible to donate a kidney to him. However, their names were added to the database for California Pacific Medical Center’s Kidney Paired Donation program. This program helps match pairs of incompatible donors and recipients so that couples can “exchange” kidneys; thereby making two or more living donor kidney transplants possible. If a paired donation didn’t occur, Jim would wait for a transplant from a deceased donor.
As time passed and Jim experienced setbacks with dialysis, his local nephrologist suggested he get evaluated at another transplant center. “We thought perhaps I could get a living donor transplant sooner than in San Francisco,” explains Jim. Within a week of this evaluation, Jim was told by the transplant center that he wasn’t a candidate. “I feel like there are doctors in hospitals who are willing to work on really sick people and those who prefer not,” says Jim. “From the beginning, the doctors’ concern at California Pacific was to make a precious life better and longer. They felt that I deserved a chance at life.”
Ultimately, Jim waited three years for a kidney transplant. He and John matched with two other pairs who were part of a 3-way kidney paired donation that occurred November 11, 2011 at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. “I wasn’t too apprehensive about the surgery as I have been through a lot of operations, but I was concerned about putting my friend in harm’s way,” explains Jim. John, who gave his kidney to an unknown recipient with whom he matched so that Jim could get a compatible kidney, recalls, “They rolled me into surgery and I saw the bright lights above me. I knew I was doing the right thing.”
“It’s Like they Turned the Blood Back On!”
Only a month after his kidney transplant in which he received a compatible kidney from a 27-year old female living donor, Jim says “I feel better than I remember feeling in a long time. It’s like they turned the blood back on!” The transplant has sparked his interest in living donation, inspiring him to educate others about how the gift of a kidney can transform a life. “If people knew and understand kidney donation, I don’t think we’d have 80,000 people waiting for a kidney today,” he says. “If I can help educate people, there might be more possibilities for others to get a living donor transplant.”
And John is positive about his experience as a donor, relating that he feels like he gave a kidney to two people—his friend Jim, and the individual who received his kidney. He explains, “I’ve been overwhelmed with people telling me what a terrific thing I’ve done. It’s just a wonderful feeling to be able to help.”